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Credit cards make everything easy—including racking up debt. An unforeseen emergency, a large purchase, or a spend-heavy time of life like the beginning of a college semester can result in a hefty credit card bill. Making things worse, if the full amount is not paid off in a single billing cycle, your credit card debt can go from hefty to horrific pretty fast.
For many young Canadians, anxiety about money coupled with fear or even shame leads to denial. Financial issues, especially unpleasant ones, take a back seat to other concerns simply because they seem too overwhelming to tackle head-on. This is a bad strategy. When you're holding credit card debt, your entire financial picture is affected.
“It can be difficult to manage other day-to-day expenses or save for your future,” says Choi. “And it may also affect your credit score – which could mean you may not qualify for a loan or mortgage.”
For all these reasons and more, it’s crucial to pay down your credit card debt as quickly and efficiently as possible. This article will give you some tested and true strategies and teach you how to pay off your credit card debt fast.
Assess your Current Financial Picture
Nothing inspires panic like financial problems, but you owe it to yourself to take a deep breath. This is one large problem that you can approach in smaller increments.
The first step is a complete and honest assessment of your financial picture. Write down all sources of income so you have an idea of what is coming in every month. Next, map out a realistic monthly budget. This should include the obvious expenses such as rent, phone, and groceries, but be ruthless with yourself. Do you also buy expensive coffees during the week? Put it in the budget. How about restaurant meals, Uber rides, or Amazon Prime? All these need to be in your budget.
Next, identify the areas where you can save. Even one less fancy cocktail per week will make a difference, and these small changes really add up.
“I know people won't want to hear this,” Choi says. “But cutting out the fun stuff such as eating out or travelling is a must since you can use that money to pay down your credit card debt.”
One word of warning, though: when making your budget cuts, make sure they’re reasonable and not too restrictive. You’re far more likely to overspend if you’ve not left yourself a little wiggle room. All your work building a workable budget will be useless if you don’t stick to it.
Once you’ve got your budget in hand, it’s time to build a long-term plan. Your budget is part of your plan, but it’s not the complete picture. According to Choi, developing (and sticking to!) a long-term repayment plan is the number-one tip for paying down credit card debt quickly. In this next section, we’ll look at different styles and strategies to consider including in your debt repayment plan.
Need help putting together a budget that works? Try YNAB (You Need a Budget)– an easy online personal budgeting program that can help you quickly gain control of your money, get out of debt, and save more money faster. There’s an even an app that you can download onto your phone, making tracking expenses a cinch.
Choose your Credit Card Products Wisely
If you do it right, you can actually get your credit card itself to help you lower your debt. Consider the following savvy strategies:
Get a lower interest credit card
Transferring your balance to a card with lower interest is an effective strategy for minimizing your debt on your balance and new purchases. For instance, TD Emerald Flex Rate Visa* offers a variable interest rate that's tied to the TD Prime Rate and varies depending on your credit assessment. Customers with a good credit score will qualify for a purchase interest rate as low as TD Prime + 4.50%. Given that TD’s Prime Rate is currently 3.95%, it means that customers with a good credit score could get an interest rate as low as 8.45% — one of the best in the country.
Low-interest or interest-free periods of time on balance transfers can also be leveraged to your great advantage. The MBNA True Line® Mastercard® has a crazy-good balance transfer promo: transfer a balance within 90 days of account opening, and you'll pay 0% promotional interest rate for 12 months, with a fee of 3% of the amount transferred (minimum fee of $7.50). Apply now, because this promo ends February 29, 2020! As if that's not enough, this card also has no annual fee, and unlike other cards, it offers a competitive purchase interest rate of 12.99%. All of these features will give you the time you need to get you back in the black.
Other card details: Interest on Cash Advances: 24.99% | Interest on Balance Transfers & Access Cheques: 12.99% | Interest on Purchases: 12.99%
*This offer is not available for residents of Quebec. For Quebec residents, please click here.
Take advantage of points programs
Chances are you will still be using your card for everyday expenses, so why not make those purchases work for you? If your card has a program, you can rack up points for buying things like groceries, gas, or drugstore items, and put the money you saved towards your outstanding debt.
The most efficient way to manage this strategy is to track your most frequent expenses by category (most cards offer this information online) and choose a points program that will benefit you most.
For example, if your expenses fall heavily into the groceries and bills categories, you’ll want to consider the Scotia Momentum ® Visa Infinite* Card, which gives whopping 4% cash back on every $1 spent on eligible grocery store purchases and recurring payments—one of the most generous cash back programs in Canada. This means you can actually earn while paying your cellphone, internet, and utility bills! Additionally, you’ll earn 2% back for every $1 spent on gas and daily transit spending. Every other purchase gets a 1% return, making this a robust offering for $120 annually.
If you travel extensively, you may get more bang for your buck with the TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite*. It offers some incredible perks that make it completely justifiable. For one, you'll get an uber generous welcome bonus of up to 30,000 Aeroplan Miles (the equivalent to 2 economy short-haul round-trip flight rewards!) as well as great potential to earn miles on everything you charge to the credit card. This card does come with an annual fee of $120, but it's waived for the first year as part of the current promotion. To take advantage of this limited-time, online-only offer, you must apply online by March 2, 2020.
It also comes with other perks, such as travel insurance (including travel medical and car rental), priority check-in/boarding on Air Canada flights, one complimentary first checked bag on Air Canada flights, and one free guest pass to the Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge annually. Meanwhile, you can put the money you saved towards your outstanding credit card debt and get it paid off pronto.
Get a cashback card
As they say, cash is king. The best cash back credit cards let you earn a small percentage of your spending back in cash. With a product like the Tangerine Money-Back Mastercard, you receive a percentage of your purchases back in cash that you can apply to your debt load. Highly customizable, this card lets you choose which spending categories to apply 2% cash back to, and you still earn 0.5% returns on all other purchases. Did we mention that it has no annual fee?
If that's not enticing enough, maybe this lucrative, limited-time welcome offer will win you over: new customers earn 4% Money-Back Rewards in up to 3 categories for their first 3 months. Apply now, because this promo expires on January 31, 2020.
Negotiate with Your Credit Card Company for Lower Interest
Even if you’re happy with your current card, you might be able to strike a better deal. Few people are aware of it, but one way to get a lower interest rate is to simply call your credit card company and ask! The worst they can do is say no, but more likely than not they will offer you a reduced rate for a fixed term.
Consolidate Your Debt
Consolidating your debt can save you stress and money. Instead of managing several monthly bills, each with their own interest rate and due date, consider consolidating your debt load by transferring your balance to a low-interest credit card, or by taking out a personal loan.
“These loans and credit cards typically come with a lower interest rate so you could easily cut the amount of interest you're paying in half every month,” says Choi. “The key is to use that money you're saving on interest and apply it to any outstanding credit card balance that you may have.”
This is good advice no matter what strategy (or strategies) you decide on. If you find yourself bogged down with credit card debt, resist the urge to go into denial. Instead, develop a budget and debt repayment plan, maximize the benefits you receive through your credit card products, and stick to your repayment schedule. You may be surprised at how quickly you can repay your credit card debt.
Avalanche or Snowball method?
There are two general ways that people go about repaying their debt, each with its own pros and cons. Understanding your options—and knowing what motivates you most—will go a long way to helping you come up with a plan you can live with.
The so-called “avalanche method” is when people pay the minimum balance on all their cards, but put any extra towards the credit card debt with the highest interest rate. Mathematically speaking, it’s the most effective way to pay down debt, as it chips away at the balance producing the most interest.
“By doing this, you pay less interest over the long run,” confirms Choi.
However, math isn’t everything. Remember: You’re building a long-term debt repayment plan, so it needs to work for you. Known as the “snowball method,” many people prefer to focus on the credit card with the lowest remaining balance so they can get a win under their belt fast. The main benefit here is the morale boost that comes with each debt that’s paid off, and research suggests that these victories are effective in keeping people motivated.
The bottom line? Go with whichever style suits you best – just stick to it!
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